Five things I learned as an Uchi Deshi in NY

It took me a while to do this Uchi Deshi trip to New York. As much as we love Aikido, we cannot do it all. There are too many seminars to follow, and teachers to see. Besides that, work keeps us busy too. That’s why I did this trip without my sister Anne, who kept the dojo running at home. Anyway, I’m glad I was able to do this trip and meet my Spanish friends who stayed as an Uchi Deshi at New York Aikikai like me. During the trip I made a little Aikido Vlog (video blog) for my students. When you have some time, it might be interesting to watch. This post gave me more time to think about what I learned and I love to share it with you. So here are the big five things I learned of my time as an Uchi Deshi in New York:

1. Training time 
At Ando dojo we are used to practice and change ukes all the time. At New York Aikikai (depending on the teacher) almost all teachers let you practice with one uke for an hour. At first you pick just anybody who’s available, but when you realize that you can train a whole hour with a higher ranked, things get much more interesting. Techniques will get smoother, less thinking about which steps you should make. You’ll get the chance to get to know how to work with the person in front of you. I got lucky to train with several teachers of NYA during class. Some I didn’t realize were teachers until the hour after! (It did explain why it felt so easy to train with each other).

2. Practice makes Perfect 
The only way to get better is to keep practicing. Looking at all sensei teaching at New York Aikikai, you’d think they only come to teach and leave when they are finished. Nothing is less true than that. They stay to train themselves. Even as a shihan! That amazed me. I’ve seen quite a lot of high grade teachers training at seminars. But seeing them on the mat getting taught by a lower rank than themselves? Never. Usually this is an ego thing; people with a higher rank think they know stuff better. When you think about it, it makes sense. Practice makes perfect, and Aikido keeps you fit.

3. Finding your way in Aikido
As you train 6-7 hours a day, you will notice that there is no sensei alike. At first that’s odd, because how can Ai hanmi – Ikkyo be different with each teacher? Didn’t they watch Yamada sensei doing it the other way? No, that’s something that has been incorporated by Yoshimitsu Yamada sensei himself. And it’s something we all should adapt in our own dojo. There are so many people, so many ways of Ai Ki. The basics stay the same obviously, but Aikido should work with you. (That’s something Tamura sensei said to me when I was younger.) And because we are all different (in sizes, shapes) and have our own interests, we should explore that instead of copying the teacher. An Aikido friend once said ‘don’t follow the footsteps of the sensei, but follow his goal.’ As an Aikido teacher I can tell you it’s way harder to let people find their own way, instead of correcting them in what you are doing. My parents found the same resemblance in having kids develope their own personality.

4. Commitment 
As an Uchi Deshi I made the commitment to clean and practice as much as I could, for the week I stayed there. That’s nothing compared what real Uchi Deshi are doing, living there like Andreas. He is the Dojo manager now. He oversees the uchi deshi program and does a great deal of the daily chores even thought that is not his job. On one hand it’s the best job you can imagine; practice Aikido all day and clean ‘once in a while’. But you are always there! You are there to help sensei, but also any beginner stepping on the tatami for the first time and much more. It’s amazing to see people like him have a great Aikido spirit. My gi became my regular clothes for that week. Any time off I had, I spent sleeping after class. So you can’t take this lightly. 

But they are not the only ones that have an enormous commitment. Teachers like Steve sensei wake up earlier than the Uchi Deshi at NYA. To make it on time to the dojo to teach morning class (07:00hr) sensei Steve has to wake up around 03:30hr. Harvey sensei has a 2,5hr bus ride to the dojo, and goes back after that (so another 2,5hr.). That’s a ride from Eindhoven to Paris just for teaching Aikido class!! That’s what I call admirable commitment to Aikido.

5. There is always time 
People from NY are living by their work, a mentality you can find in big cities. (Not something you will find in Eindhoven, because restaurants will stop serving you after 21.30hr.) But what I liked most about this mentality is that everybody finds time to practice Aikido! Not only evening classes are crowded, also the morning class and afternoon class are filled with people. People are fitting Aikido into their lives. Whether it is a lunch break or a morning ritual. Something we all should do.

These where just some highlights of my time at NYA. It was a great honor that Yamada sensei was willing to have me as an Uchi Deshi. Realizing that my time as an Uchi Deshi is nothing compared to his time spend with O’sensei.  I had a great time, made new friends and learned a lot of new things. I brought a lot of Aikido souvenirs (techniques) to our Ando dojo. Aikido is there for sharing, so I hope this post has inspired you.

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